Friday 18 July 1997
The architect Mark Fisher, who designed the one-night stand, visited Gracelands to copy the gold curtains swagged with epaulettes that could have come from the King's wardrobe. Then he designed a red-and-white diagonal stripe in Roy Lichtenstein's pop-art style. Video screens will beam out news footage to accompany the songs... Neil Armstrong's step, student riots in 1969, Jackie Kennedy's scramble over the car, the fall of the Berlin wall ... and some surprises, such as footage on the fall of Vietnam taken from the Vietnam archives, not the Americans'. There's also a strong eco-thrust, with millions of tons of Coke cans crushed into cubes, industrial effluent pouring out, packaging being pulped and nuclear test shots on an awesome scale. (As Fisher points out, the back rows at Wembley are 300ft from the stage.)
This is late 20th-century culture, stadium version, coming to the world from Fisher's north London basement, a Tube-rattled place well known to some of the great names in rock'n'roll. In a room apparently furnished from car-boot sales, they watch video animations of his ideas for staging their new roadshows a year ahead of rehearsals. U2, Genesis, the Stones, Tina Turner, they all end up as little faceless figures in his video fantasies.
In real life, his spectacular sets take on an awesome scale. In 1988 he rebuilt the Berlin wall in 550ft of Styrofoam bricks in what used to be no man's land for a Pink Floyd concert, then collapsed the wall into plastic rubble.
For a year now he has worked with Mick Jagger, designing the Stones' new roadshow, Bridges of Babylon, which kicks off in Chicago on 26 September. Gigantic inflatables of the Golightly girls as Sloth and Gluttony 100ft tall threaten to dwarf the Stones. A big black zipper, same as the one designed by Andy Warhol on their Sticky Fingers album all those years ago, slashes centre-stage, which is littered with architectural capitals, those flourishes atop columns. Egyptian ones sprouting palms, and imploded Doric columns knocked off their pedestals.
"Yes, it's very baroque," says Fisher. So now Mick Jagger turns baroque'n'roller.
The last Stones concert Fisher staged had gigantic inflatable women, which riggers under the stage pulled on ropes in time to "Honky Tonk Women". It also had Rottweilers amid the dry ice and fireworks. So this is a less mean streets, blues bars and street cred, more grown-up and theatrical with knobs on.
But how did Fisher persuade U2 to present themselves on stage as a lemon, 60ft high, complete with a bar and butler inside? Trundling on at 3mph, searchlights glinting off its mirrored yellow revolving surface - "only the case revolves, not the platform inside, otherwise they'd be dizzy and vomit" - it connects Mir-like with a stairway from a trapdoor in the floor. Bono and the band descend on to a supermarket set.
A mild-mannered draughtsman who is singularly free from ego, Fisher keeps black drawing books for each tour, in which he sketches things that turn into symbols on stage. For U2 he trolled the supermarkets in the States to streamline trolleys until they developed mean jaws, which he then swivelled as a logo on the video screen at the back of the stage. Supermarkets in Los Angeles and Miami designed like temples by Morris Lapidus in the Fifties and Sixties inspired the 60ft triumphal arch, canary yellow and made from fibreglass and steel that is the centrepiece of "Popmarket". Bono liked it so much he turned it into the logo on T-shirts that conspicuous consumers can buy at the concert.
"Late 20th-century culture has been reduced to something that has value, that can be bought and sold off." Fisher says of "Popmarket", not without irony since the band are doing precisely that sort of sales gimmick.
Fisher discovered just how powerful such messages could be, beamed globally by satellite TV, when he positioned the slogans "Free Nelson Mandela" and "Anti Apartheid" across the 70th birthday concert for Mandela while he was still in jail in 1988. No TV station in the world could beam out an image from the concert without those words appearing. To this day, Fisher and Tony Holingsworth of Tribute, former GLC events co-ordinator, believe that they helped to free Nelson Mandela. And of course, they didn
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